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  • Writer's pictureSchuyler Laverentz

What are my Miranda rights and when am I entitled to them?

In addition to family law, I also represent people charged with crimes. Frequently, a client will mention the officer did not read them their Miranda rights before questioning (referring to Miranda v. Arizona, a U.S. Supreme Court case from 1966). Does that make any difference? Not necessarily. See if you can guess when Miranda rights should be read: (I'll give you the answers at the end of the post) There are a lot of exceptions to Miranda and a lot of cases that discuss thousands of different fact patterns involving whether someone should have been read their rights, but here are some feasible examples:


Scenario #1


You willingly enter the Howell County Sheriff's Department. An officer approaches you and asks if you need assistance. You tell him you are currently in possession of a bag of marijuana so good Dave Chappelle has been blowing up your cell phone begging for some. The officer asks if that is true and you tell him yes. He pats you down, finds the bag of weed and then arrests you. He doesn't question you any further, but at no time during the encounter does he read you your Miranda rights. Is your statement admissible in court?


Scenaro #2


You are stopped by a highway patrolman for driving 75 mph in a 65 mph zone. You pull over and stop. The officer walks to your window and asks for your driver license. As you hand it to him, he tells you he smells marijuana. Without reading you Miranda, he asks if you have any drugs on you or in the car. You tell him that you do. He finds the weed that Dave is so desperate to get his hands on and arrests you. The entire exchange takes less than five minutes. Is your statement admissible in court?


Scenario #3


You are stopped by a highway patrolman for driving 75 mph in a 65 mph zone. You pull over and stop. The officer walks to your window and asks for your driver license. As you hand it to him, he tells you he smells marijuana. (I'm sensing a theme here) He then asks you to step out of the car and handcuffs you. He takes you to his patrol vehicle and sits you in the back seat. He doesn't read you your Miranda rights before he asks you whether there are any drugs on your person or in the car. You tell him you have fifteen pounds of marijuana in the trunk that you are transporting for a Mexican drug cartel along with a rocket launcher and Dave Chappelle's dead body (his calls were getting annoying). Is your statement admissible in court?


ANSWER: Your Miranda rights are only triggered when you are being questioned by law enforcement (questions that might incriminate you) AND you are being detained (not free to leave). If are not detained (and what constitutes being detained doesn't have to mean you are handcuffed, but that is the easiest scenario to deal with) then your Miranda rights have not been triggered. In Scenario #1, you provide a incriminating statement without being asked a question. And you're not being detained. You don't get Miranda. If the officer arrests you and takes you into the Howell County Jail to question you, then your Miranda rights are triggered.


In #2, the officer does ask you a question that could incriminate you, but you haven't been detained. You can certainly argue that you were not free to leave, but that is usually a loser in front of a judge (there are exceptions). Almost every cop I have cross-examined on the witness stand will, with a straight face, tell me my client was free to leave at any time during the traffic stop. Which is ridiculous. What do you suppose the officer would do if he asked for your license and you drove off? Wave bye bye? Most of the time, the court will find you had not been detained, so no Miranda rights.


In #3, you are detained by being handcuffed and being placed in the back seat of the police car. And the officer is asking you a question about whether you have drugs (the answer to which could be incriminating) and you answer yes. In this case, a smart lawyer would file a motion to suppress your statement because your Miranda rights have been violated. If successful, not only does your statement not come in to evidence, but all of the evidence in your car is suppressed as well (called fruit of the poisonous tree). Sorry Dave. Case dismissed. You go home.


No, you don't get the marijuana back. Or the rocket launcher. You don't get to keep Mr. Chappelle, either. You've put his family through enough pain already. And how could you do that to the co-creator (along with Neal Brennan) of the Chappelle Show? Those sketches were genius. Hilarious to this day. Frankly, you were a real jerk in #3.



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